[1.0] The technological vortex

"The symbiosis which has been dominating the XXth century, between reason and horror, has given rise to a world which is each time more ambiguous". J. G. Ballard

The sinister and phantasmagoria-like presence of a certain negative aura of technology produces very clear effects on the definition of a new model of relationship with the world. We should add technology, its benefits and their opposing result - the accident - together, in a kind of relation very close to the dependency that there is between negative and positive in the classical techniques of photographic printing.

In many of his late texts and interviews, Paul Virilio - in a mélange which stands between the prophetic and the apocalyptic - constantly reminds us of that bi-directional relationship between technology and the accident, a relationship against which one can not fight. In fact, each technological development will correspond to its accidental alter ego, as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide of modern positivity. It is impossible, for instance, to think of the automobile and the vectorial vertigo implied in any artefact of physical movement without immediately referring to the unpredictability of the accident - which is only a matter of finding out how likely or unlikely it is to happen; just as it is inevitable to draw the same analogy concerning any other technological device. The accident is thus the shadow of technology, or rather, the accident deeply overlaps technique’s own nature. But the major paradox of this umbilical relationship between technology and the accident is the fact that the former's development is mainly dependent on the effective occurrence of the accident (1). Without the accident we would not have the skill or the need to improve the technologies that serve us on our daily life.

If we are in the domain of the body, of our still human body, and if we try to compare it with this inevitable tension between technology and the accident, we will easily conclude that also our techno-body is dependent on the threat of the accident-disease for its refinement; at least until its total accident takes place - the ceasing of the vital functions. And it is precisely that inevitability that hangs around our body since the very first moment that allows it to find survival models in more or less adverse contexts. Our organism can only be viable due to that imperfection that makes it so vulnerable to accident - "life is a plastic entity which combines the rigour of construction with the variability of expression"(2), according to Paulo Cunha e Silva.

At any rate, in the last decades and especially in more recent times, the threats to our body as a complex organism, interdependent on the environment, have assumed such different proportions that they allow the possibility to literally speak of a total biological accident; this is not very different from what is happening to the social groups as we know them and the threats they are under. Is that total accident that which might allow us to speak of a post-human era, in the same way that the global technological accident might lead to a post-technological era? Or, in a less apocalyptic way, will it mean just one more phase in the process by which the organism becomes more and more complex and, consequently, more able to adapt itself to the environment's adversity?

If art still is an interesting place to live in, that is mainly due to its capacity to constantly delude the cadaverous rigidity, just as a living organism turns its capacity for adaptation and its mobility into an instrument of survival. Art, like life, also combines a certain conceptual rigour and an elastic variability, and that, precisely, is one of its virtues: the way in which it becomes the organic extension of life itself (which is the reason why the dichotomies between art vs. life, which are at the forefront, are a fallacy).

Ontologically speaking, art has permanently fought against its own extinction, against its own singular total accident - the much-publicised idea of the death of art. However, reverberations of this tension between reason and chaos are also felt in the process of "making" art. In different ways, every creative act is ultimately played between the poles of chance and control, chaos and necessity. The idea of experimentation, so dear to the process by which art asserts itself, is then inevitably linked to the different states of balance which result from weighing those two poles. Without the accident, without chance, we would never have the possibility to speak of art, at least not in the way we are used to grasp it. The existence of the accident, the unpredictability of that happening is essential to its survival, and they relate it closely with the inevitable contingencies of life itself.

[2.0] Target: the paradox of over-lightning

"Il faut viser pour tuer. Ce qui tue cést le regard, la désignation". Paul Virilio

The word alvo may be used as an adjective to qualify the whiteness or the purity of a given thing; it may be used as a common noun to refer to the colour white or the object we aim to hit with a projectile, or even the white part of the eye; and in figurative meaning, it may refer to the aim, the purpose, the end, the intention of a certain action. This plurality of meanings gives us an interesting starting point for the analysis of Pedro Tudela's installation Target.

Let's try to build a triangle with (1) purity, the white that results in some kind of zero level, sometimes because of an excess (for instance, the accumulation in the additive synthesis of optical physics) or because of a defect (for instance, the myth of purity when associated with the virginity of an immaculate prop); (2) the look that determines; and, finally, the presence of (3) a certain target. These are three possible poles for a tentacle-like journey through this installation. The first one is mainly related to the opposition between transparency and opacity, purity and defilement, the healthy and the sick body. The second one may help us to remember a lost opticity, not that which is one of the main principles of, for instance, painting, but the paradoxical opticity of the rotoreliefs of Marcel Duchamp. The last one may turn the spectator into the target of this intervention, by means of a particular inductive mode, so typical of art, and which Pedro Tudela uses in a very effective way.

Going back to the digressions of the beginning of this text, it is useful to remind here that the target embodies in an ideal way the imperfect relationship between incident and control, the static object and the projectile in motion, origin and intention, desire and reality; that is, it contains an inevitable reference to the possibility of accident - it will suffice to remember the tragedy of that modern William Tell, William Burroughs.

In each of the three CAPC rooms, Pedro Tudela has installed a group of pieces that play precisely between the necessary contingency of the creative "making" and the inescapable contingency of life. Let's see: in the first room, "sound-producing" targets and a group of singular self-portraits are facing one another. The artist's face is opposed to the conceptual deviation of an obliterated object, halfway between the alta-voz and the classic aim, the former being also dissipated, this once by means of an over-lightning process. In the same way that those targets passively offered themselves to the projectiles that ran through them, Pedro Tudela has also abandoned his own face, pressed onto the glass, to a scanner shot of light. In this way, the shots of a weapon which still permanently reverberate in the rooms, and which link the aim of the look and the purpose of the shot, are opposed to the momentary blindness of an immobile and cadaverous face - some kind of mortuary mask, where neither the typical deformation nor the lack of the vital signal of the look are missing.

In the second room, the accident is remembered as the paradoxical condition of survival through three different situations. Can't we see the photographs of a trivial highway, wrapped in a strange plastic fabric, linked by means of an umbilical cord to a helmet lying on the floor, as an intense allegory of the contingent condition of the human existence? The huge "sound-producing painting" that covers the wall at the bottom seems, in its turn, to revisit the duchampian paradox I was referring to above; it offers us, in the royal frame that comforts it, one last elected bed for a group of sounds that the dramatisation makes half disturbing, half comforting, and which is stressed by the aseptic boxes laid in the same room, holding strange fantastic stories about the encephalic mass.

The last room explores in a more direct way the proposal of the first room, thus closing the circle of the installation. A new obliteration is projected over another self-portrait - a kind of semihypnotic target which usually refers to the beginning of a movie - and which is, in fact, a zero level of the exposition, a contradictory process of suppression of subjectivism by means of re-focusing on the individual. The fact is that despite the strong autobiographical notes that ran through these pieces of work, it is its capacity to shift from the general to the particular only condition for survival in the aesthetic dominion, that stands out.

In order to conclude, I would like to focus on another essential issue to better understand this exposition; it has to do with its apparent diversity, or rather, with the way different conjunctions for the same problem constantly amaze us. The truth is that these pieces of work by Pedro Tudela, while revealing a continuity with his proposals in the more restricted territory of painting, use conceptual processes that do not result in some relevant break, even though they are to be found in a context of more hybrid subjects. Thus, it is exposed, in a somewhat clear way, the idea that the core of the central problem of the artistic practice is far away from exclusive worries, or even self-reflection, about the means or the technical processes involved in it. What we are offered to experience is only one of the possible results of an intense experimentation. The proliferation of techniques and means that this installation imposes also leads us in that same direction. In fact, although it is true that the work of Pedro Tudela leads, in the end, to an obvious assertion of a distinctive authorship as modernity has established it; it is also evident that this is done by means of an apparent diversity which may seem contradictory. The idea of style is often reduced to a superficial uniformity of the piece of work - making use of objects one can recognise as belonging to one single family; or by building a course without relevant breaks, which is to say, forcing each new step to establish a clear, even if superficial, relationship with the previous one. If that, on the one hand, is true on the other hand a strategy of fragmentation and multiplication of the creative process, making constant use of experimentation, may definitely contribute to its vanishing or, at least, to its establishment according to different assumptions.

(1)“L’accident est révélateur et prophétique. Il est ce qu’il faut affronter pour developper la technique. Dis-moi quel est l’accident, je te dirai quelle est la technique. Inventer um object technique, c’est imaginer un accident spécifique.” — in VIRILIO, Paul, Paul Virilio: Vitesse, guerre et vídeo, entrevista conduzida por François Ewald in Magazine Littéraire, Paris, Novembre 1995, p. 100. (2)SILVA, Paulo Cunha e, O lugar do Corpo, Lisboa, Instituto Piaget, 1999, p. 154.